Duke Blue Devils
Head Coach: David Cutcliffe
2018 Record: 8-5, 3-5 Conference
Bowl: 56-27 win over Temple at Independence Bowl
O/U 5.5 wins (O -110; U -120)
Make 4 Team Playoff: +90000
The Duke Blue Devils have made six Bowls in the past seven years. It has been an eight-game winner twice straight. But falling apart in the ACC schedule cost it a chance at a Coastal Division championship, and it really should have been a 10-win team after its 4-0 start in non-conference play. Those failures might just be the start of a trend, with NCAA football oddsmakers predicting more regression for the Blue Devils in setting the over/under at just 5.5 wins this year. Let us attempt to discern why Duke is primed to regress.
The losses begin with Daniel Jones, probably the most successful QB in Blue Devil history when it is all said and done. Fifth-year senior Quentin Harris will step in for this season, but continuity is an issue with him using the last of his NCAA eligibility as a first-year starter. Harris has fared well in Duke’s red-zone offense, and he was 2-0 as a starter while also helping finish off a road victory at Northwestern when Jones went down.
The problems begin for Harris in finding quality receivers, with just two returning options that have yet to rack up mass yardage in their college careers. Jake Bobo had 10 catches for 167 yards last year and Aaron Young had seven for 167. The hiring of a great receiver coach in Trooper Taylor will help some here, but inexperience is a lot to overcome with a WR group. Duke accordingly will run the ball more this year, probably, with Deon Jackson and Brittain Brown providing a 1-2 punch that should suffice. Harris is also something of a dual-threat QB. The Blue Devils allowed 30 sacks last year, ranking No. 78, and the offensive line should be able to improve on that. Jack Wohlabaugh is tough as a center and Robert Kraeling is strong at right tackle.
The Devils ranked No. 72 in scoring defense last year and No. 77 in total defense. It hardly helps that the unit loses three of its top four tacklers, as well. Duke has some talent on the defensive end, but it is very short in depth. The best part of the defense will be the front where it starts junior end Victor Dimukeje. He had 42 tackle last year including 8.5 for loss. Drew Jordan starts opposite of him and he had 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks last year.
The defense will hope for a lot from Chris Rumph II, who made the Freshman All-American team last year after recording 25 tackles, including eight for a loss, and also three sacks. He should star from multiple positions given his versatility, and he is a great weapon for this defense.
The middle is where it gets most dicey, though, with two three-year starters being replaced by Kobe Quansah, Xander Gagnon, and Brandon Hill. The onslaught of injuries last season did help build some versatility with many starting in unfamiliar roles. The secondary has eight players who started at least two games. Mark Gilbert returns from a season-ending hip injury that he had operated on in September, and Michael Carter II was huge as a replacement for injured starters in the secondary. He is versed at all five positions, actually. So while Duke has some depth issues, it might be made up for by the fact so many of its defensive players can play multiple positions.
Austin Parker will handle all of the kicking duties after just punting last year. He averaged 41.4 yards per attempt. He also converted 17 of 21 field goals in 2017, with a long kick of 45-yards. Deon Jackson will handle the kick returns, while punt returns will be fielded by Jake Bobo.
Duke is not done any favors in 2019 with a very tough schedule. It will collide against both Alabama and Notre Dame, and the conference schedule is tougher this season, as well. Harris has his work cut out for him with no proven receivers, and Duke’s defense while improved is still an area of concern. Cutcliffe wisely intends to get his players into top-conditioning both to avoid last year’s injury pitfalls and to serve as a boost against a tough conference schedule with plenty of deep ACC teams. Ultimately, Duke falls off this year, but probably not as bad as some pundits expect.
Prediction: 6 wins (over)